On this Sunday when we are reminded that, despite all our divisions, Christians throughout the world all share the Sacrament of Communion, I’d like you to hold in your mind and heart the image of an empty cup, a chalice if you will, maybe like this chalice which our daughter Meredith made in high school. This big chalice is even emptier than it looks at first glance, because there is a hole in the bottom of this top bowl, so that the bottom may also be filled. This can hold a lot of the Blood of Christ! A huge cup of blessing!

Now I’d also like you to hold in your mind and heart this image from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, and as I read it again, I invite you to notice how strikingly different this image of a human being worthy of our regard is to the image of all those public figures who are held up before us in our day and age. You might even want to close your eyes as you hear this again and perhaps see if there are other images that come to mind–

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death–even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him…

It’s thought that Paul is quoting a hymn about Jesus that was sung in early Christian communities, singing about One so humble that “he emptied himself.” God “emptied Godself” to become fully human, and then again, on the cross, in the human form of Jesus, “emptied himself” to be filled with divinity. This emptying to be filled is at the heart of what it means to be Christian–not the “no swearing, no cheating, no partying” image of Christian, not the “thou shalt not,” finger-wagging, holier than thou image of Christian, not even the relentlessly justice-seeking, demonstrating, advocating image of Christian more familiar in the UCC–but this: he emptied himself, she emptied herself, so that they could be filled with God. “No greater love has anyone than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” Jesus said.

This emptying is not exactly the same as renunciation, it’s not a pushing away, it’s not a sitting on your hands or keeping them in your pocket so that you don’t touch anything, but rather it’s an embrace of everything and a grasping/clinging on to nothing. “Don’t hold on to me,” Jesus told Mary in the garden that Easter morning, “for I haven’t yet become part of God.” It’s not a cold shutting out of everyone and everything in the world. “Unlike a more Buddhist version of this spiritual motion,” Episcopal priest and author Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “kenosis,[ which is the Greek word used here for this emptying] has a certain warm spaciousness to it; to the degree one does not assert one’s own agenda, something else has the space to be. The ‘letting go’ of kenosis is actually closer to ‘letting be’…its flow is positive and fundamentally creative.” [The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, p. 104]

How different is this from the puffing up, the self-aggrandizing, the never-ending grasping of so many public figures?! And not only them, but we ourselves–how often we are so full – full of our opinions, full of our certainties, full of our worries and busyness– that there is no room for others, certainly not others of different opinions or political perspectives or backgrounds, and certainly, alas, too often, no room for God. “He emptied himself… he humbled himself.”

Sometimes life takes over and does the emptying for us, it hollows us. It could be a phone call, a diagnosis, an accident, the loss of a job, a death. For Jan Richardson, “The hollowing began the moment Gary died,” Gary–her young husband and partner, never recovering from what was to have been routine surgery. “The hollowing began the moment Gary died.” But slowly, gradually, agonizingly, the hollowness began to be filled with healing, with love, with friendship, with grace, with God. “Encompassed by the Christ,” she wrote, “who enfolds our emptiness in his own, we become free to choose how we will respond to the emptying, to allow the hollowing to open our hearts to the world we are called to serve in joy and in love.” [Painted Prayerbook, 9/22/14] Finally Jan was able to write this blessing that she called,

“Blessing That Becomes Empty
As It Goes”

This blessing
keeps nothing
for itself.
You can find it
by following the path
of what it has let go,
of what it has learned
it can live without.

Say this blessing out loud
a few times
and you will hear
the hollow places
within it,
how it echoes
in a way
that gives your voice
back to you
as if you had never
heard it before.

Yet this blessing
would not be mistaken
for any other,
as if,
in its emptying,
it had lost
what makes it
most itself.

It simply desires
to have room enough
to welcome
what comes.

it’s you.

So come and sit
in this place
made holy
by its hollows.
You think you have
too much to do,
too little time,
too great a weight
of responsibility
that none but you
can carry.

I tell you,
lay it down.
Just for a moment,
if that’s what you
can manage at first.
Five minutes.
Lift up your voice—
in laughter,
in weeping,
it does not matter—
and let it ring against
these spacious walls.

Do this
until you can hear
the spaces within
your own breathing.
Do this
until you can feel
the hollow in your heart
where something
is letting go,
where something
is making way. [Richardson, Ibid.]

So we come back to the empty chalice, waiting to be filled and poured out, to the loaf of bread waiting to be broken open to fill us and make us one loaf. Emptying, filling, lifting us up, healing us, God is in the midst of it all working our salvation out, saving us from our clinging and grasping, saving us from our splintering apart.

Maren Tirabassi, UCC pastor, writer, New Hampshire neighbor, poet, penned this poem for World Communion Sunday this week–
I have a dream
that everyone in the world
is holding the hand of someone
who is holding the hand of someone
who is holding the hand
of a parent of one of the children
who died in the earthquake in Mexico,

except for the people
who are flying kites with keys attached
(without necessarily looking
like Benjamin Franklin)
to send electricity to Puerto Rico,

and those who are sewing
the pants of the leaders
of the United States and North Korea
to their chair cushions,
so they will have to sit and talk
rather than strutting into war,

and several whose toes are deep
in the soil of Bears Ears
and other sacred places of the earth,
which is all of them,

and many who are kneeling.

I wake up confused from my dream
but I am smiling,
for even when my plate is very full
and my cup is always broken,
I will not be split apart —

for we are a world in communion. [FB post]

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ,” Paul wrote, “any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete…” My brothers and sisters, let us empty ourselves, let us create a warm spaciousness, where God and our neighbors and Love may come in and sit at table with us. May it be so.

Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark

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